By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Descending from the family that produced Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, C. V. Wigneswaran is also a celebrated Sri Lankan.
Lawyer, Supreme Court Judge and now Chief Minister of the Northern Province, he is also a man unafraid to voice his opinion.
Recently recovering from minor surgery, Wigneswaran emailed answers to a series of questions around the debate over the proposed new Constitution.
Here is the third part of that email:
How can you face your Sinhalese friends in Colombo after advocating federalism, since they oppose you and oppose your thinking and federalism?
A: This is the typical minority mentality. We are a minority, they are majority. How could we hurt them? We are talking of solutions to problems between the majority community and the so called minority community. If you start by saying ‘might is right’ then there is no purpose in pursuing any path towards reconciliation and peace. We sign dignified covenants in the international arena saying every human being is equal to any other human being and when it comes to discussing such equal rights, you give way to the ‘might is right’ syndrome.
I must confess it did happen to me after my Trilingual speech in the Supreme Court which was about Tamil rights and discrimination by successive governments. Very close Sinhala Judge friends ignored me for a few weeks. I was amused. I needed no help from others. I could stand alone. Others needed my help. We got back to work as usual!
You must realize that the intelligentsia among the Sinhalese see the goodness in Federalism. So do others who are not so learned when the meaning of Federalism is explained to them.
I was told my reply to Hon’ Dinesh Gunawardena about Federalism was much appreciated by many Sinhala friends. I knew Hon’ Philip Gunawardena. I was the first Royalist to invite a Minister from the SWRD cabinet of 1956 to speak at one of our associations.
In my reply to Dinesh, I said if Comrade Philip and his wife who owned their Mulgedera in Boralugoda, occupied the entire estate and if Dinesh and his brothers came of age and married and had children and Comrade Philip gave portions of the Mulgedera to his children to put up houses and live in their allotted portions of land, Comrade Philip will continue to occupy the Mulgedera but the children will put up new houses for themselves in their allotted areas. They will visit each other and have the best of relationships. But each son would be entitled to special rights over the plot allotted to him. ‘That is federalism,’ I said. Centre sharing its power with the periphery!
Federalism has been made a dirty word by our politicians for their own political benefits. My Colombo friends do know the benefits of Federalism. Do not worry. I will manage them! You should realize as soon as proper federalism is granted, this country will jet towards prosperity, the hatred and suspicion among the various communities will disappear and reconciliation and peace will be established. If Sinhalese leaders feel it is a come down for them to agree to federalism for the North and East, let them suggest federalism for the entire country giving federal rights to each province with the right to any one or more provinces to merge with another.
Aren‘t you upsetting the apple cart with your statements and actions?
A: Certainly not. I am adding sanity to the constitutional process. Truth is important. Not opinions. Truth of what happened in the past and why it has become necessary to put right, what went wrong. Actually the British should have given a federal constitution instead of what they gave us. They thought, due to the noble and enchanting words used by Hon. D. S. Senanayake and others, the Sinhalese will treat all minorities with dignity and decorum. In fact, Lord Soulbury regretted what the British did, when he spoke to B.F. Farmer about ten years later. He had heard of the atrocities committed against the Tamils in 1958. He was privy to the discriminatory laws brought against the minorities.
In Switzerland, the Government deems it its duty to strengthen and give special concessions to minorities. Eg. the insignificant Romansch speaking people among them.
Here in Sri Lanka, the majority law makers deem it their duty to discriminate against the minorities because it goes well with their political electorates. I am trying to bring about a permanent solution to our constitutional ills by pointing out the truth. If we have a proper Federal constitution tomorrow, take it from me our Diaspora will help not only the North and East of Sri Lanka, but the whole of Sri Lanka because then they would consider Sri Lanka as their own country and not any more the country of the Sinhala Buddhists only. If the Sinhala Buddhists walk with us hand in hand, the applecart will roll along famously!